“I…uh…I think I need to sleep on it,” I said. My eyes glazed over. I froze. Every appendage was limp on the bed as if I’d forgotten I had them.
“…Okay,” said Lindsey with considerate hesitation.
It was Christmas 2015. I remember we had spent the morning of Christmas Eve with my family in Holt, Michigan, where, among the garbage dump of crinkled paper and shiny gifts powering up, Lindsey urged my baby niece into my arms. My mom snapped a picture of the three of us on the piano bench, capturing a generic fear of eventual fatherhood in my wide-eyed expression.
After Christmas Eve morning with the Mainses, Linds and I drove to Mackinaw to meet with her family. Her grandparents’ house is on Lake Huron, and her parents have a cottage next door fondly known as “The Next Door House.” I don’t remember the night of Christmas Eve well, but I can only assume that wine was involved (as a Cabernet usually is), though like a jolly fool I hadn’t noticed Lindsey had not been drinking.
I doo-doo-doo’d through the holiday, eager to give Linds the treasures I’d picked for her, and ready to be baptized in her generosity, ignorant to the looming collapse of my world.
To back up (bear with me now), our home basement in East Lansing has nine foot ceilings. And for those of you who don’t fully appreciate what exactly that means, I’ll gladly explain. It means that by buying the house we bought, we took on a noble responsibility. To not follow through on such a duty would be a dishonor to the grace in which we were gifted this particular home.
We needed a ping pong table.
From the days of middle school when my friends and I played in the cafeteria to the time, at 25, when my buddy and I snuck into the church to play some rounds, I’ve always loved the game. I windmill my lanky arms like a merciless putt-putt obstruction, kn-knocking the p-ping pong b-ball back and f-forth, dancing to the rhythm of the white hollow sphere on the table between two paddles.
So, that Christmas of 2015, when I opened a small gift and dangled an ornament over the open box in a mess of torn wrapping paper, I had to hush the little boy, Dougie, inside my soul. The ornament was a tiny and glittery emulation of two paddles with my name, “Doug,” etched across it. I knew what it meant, but I played it cool while inside Dougie was screaming and running around the room, saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.” That smile, the same one I’d unwrapped when I was ten and got the four pack Batman toy set which included Nightwing, Robin, and Batgirl, stayed on my face for the rest of the day like it was a brand-new perfectly-fitting Christmas sweater. I was ecstatic.
Well…until it happened.
That night, when the sun ducked behind the earth and Christmas ’15 was inching toward memory, and as my wife and I nestled into the bed reflecting on the day’s joys, she gave me one last gift. A small, rectangular present she extended over the mattress, and, like a fool (oh! What a fool I was to not have seen it coming!) I tore it open with the same boyish excitement that had been daydreaming about epic wars over a table tennis battlefield.
When the gift was unwrapped, Jimmy Fallon of all people smacked me on the face with a book. It was called, “Dada.”
Shocked, I imagined wrapping myself in the covers, and pushing reset.
Lindsey’s nervous excitement tried to gauge my reaction, unsure whether to laugh or cry, while I froze with my eyebrows raised and lip quivering, unsure whether to laugh or cry.
And my first thought was not what I would have ever expected.
I can’t have a ping pong table, I thought, I’m an adult now–a freakin’ dad!
I felt ridiculous that I could get more excited about a ping pong table than about my own offspring.
Not long before, we had decided to start trying for a baby (which to me, meant little more than the thrill of a loose cannon), but the decision was made upon the understanding that it often takes years for a couple to get pregnant. So Linds said, “we should start trying…just in case.”
I said, “Okay.”
Little did I know what I was working with. I had a tiny white knight of a sperm ready to tear through my wife’s uterus like it was a weak antagonist on a noble journey to finding the princess egg.
I got a bullseye.
I was a one-shot wonder.
I woke up the day after Christmas, a dad. The baby, of course, hadn’t been born, but I’d rediscovered my smile, and felt ready to begin learning how to answer the call of fatherhood.
Over the next nine months, however, as she grew a baby, I started to grow a fetus of anxiety in my gut. And on August 30, 2016, my son, Isaiah Douglas Mains, was born. A ping-pong table could never compare to the slimy sight of a wailing newborn that is your own flesh and blood.
I love ping pong, but I love my son more.
Thirteen months later, in the kitchen, as I chopped something of which is now forgotten, Lindsey handed me a thermometer. My brain was slow to catch up but eventually it registered that it was not a thermometer but a pregnancy test.
And it said, “pregnant.”
This time, little Dougie ran around the house, beaming.